Tuesday, October 31, 2023

European Goldfinch

The European Goldfinch is a widespread species in Europe, central Asia and northern Africa and was introduced to Australia in the 1860s. Originally restricted to urban areas, the European Goldfinch has successfully moved out into country areas of south-eastern Australia, including West Gippsland.

The European Goldfinch is found in settled areas, farmlands and weedy areas such as roadsides, railway lands and industrial wasteland. They are often seen in gardens and parks. Particularly associated with patches of Scotch Thistle.

In their home ranges of Europe, the Goldfinch is migratory. Here, the bird seems to be mostly sedentary or locally nomadic within its range.

In the UK, the Goldfinch is associated with loyalty and friendship, and is often seen as a symbol of love and devotion. In fact, the Goldfinch is a common motif in romantic literature, with poets such as William Wordsworth and John Keats writing about the bird in their works.

The Goldfinch is also a popular symbol in European folklore, with stories of the bird bringing good luck to those who spot it. In some countries, the Goldfinch is even considered a sign of good fortune, and it is often used as a motif for jewellery and other decorative items. The goldfinch is often depicted in Italian Renaissance paintings of the Madonna and Child.

Credit: nga.gov Washington

There doesn’t appear to be any studies of the ecological impacts of the Goldfinch in Australia. Anecdotal observation would suggest they are less impactful than Mynahs, Starlings, Blackbirds and Spotted Doves.


Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Shining Bronze Cuckoo

Chrysococcyx lucidus, the Shining Bronze Cuckoo, prefers to parasitize the dome-shaped nests of thornbills, fairy-wrens, gerygones and scrubwrens.

The Shining Bronze Cuckoo and the Horsefield’s Bronze Cuckoo are the two bronze cuckoos we see most around here. The SB Cuckoo has a diagnostic ‘whistling the dog’ call LINK – each note rising in pitch. The HB Cuckoo’s call is a persistent, descending whistle LINK. The SB Cuckoo lacks a distinctive dark stripe through the eye that is very obvious in the HB Cuckoo.

Left: SB Cuckoo                   Right: HB Cuckoo (credit: eBird)

Shining Bronze Cuckoos use the perch and pounce technique to feed on caterpillars, beetles, craneflies and ants. They tend to prefer the wetter forest types but often disperse into drier coastal scrub and woodlands – wherever their favourite host species like to nest.

Most individual SB Cuckoos are migratory, arriving here in spring to breed and heading to the northern parts of Australia in autumn. It is not unusual though for some remain south over winter.

The little ‘dog whistler’ is a great sign that spring has arrived.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Mt Cannibal rocks

The title of this post should be Mt Cannibal’s rocks.

The rocks in Mt Cannibal Flora and Fauna Reserve at Garfield North chiefly consist of 350 million year-old ‘Tynong Granite’. They occur in outcrops of large slabs and massive boulders. Some are beautifully shaped by various agents of erosion.

Others have inclusion bands of other minerals.

Many are split in half by mechanical weathering.

Some show evidence of exfoliation of their outer layers by eons of expansion and contraction.

Rocky outcrops provide niche micro-climates for a diverse array of flora, fauna and fungi.

Many rocks on Mt Cannibal have their own vegetation patterns called rock outcrop complex. A large number of plants and ecological vegetation and animal communities are associated with rock outcrops.

Mt Cannibal’s rocks make a considerable contribution to the biodiversity of the reserve. Mt Cannibal does indeed rock!


Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Grey Currawong

The Grey Currawong, Strepera versicolor, is seldom seen in and around the urban areas of West Gippsland. However only a short distance north into the low foothills and down south in some of the coastal woodlands, it is not unusual to encounter this bird. Some references suggest the populations are in decline locally because of a resistance to adapt to human urbanization. They certainly are a more shy bird than their close relative and much more common Pied Currawong.

Grey Currawongs have a less massive bill than Pied Currawongs and the ones in these parts are certainly grey (sometimes a dark grey) but not at all black. ‘Versicolor’ means variable in colour. Grey Currawongs have a distinctive ‘calink-a-link’ or ‘ching-a-ling’ call LINK. The Pied Currawong sounds like ‘hark-hark-the-lark’ LINK, or the recognizable ‘wolf whistle’ as they settle down at night.

Australia wide, there are 3 species of currawong, the pied, the grey and the black. There are several sub-species too and in some localities it is not easy to differentiate them. Currawongs are more closely related to magpies and butcherbirds than to ravens or crows.

The Grey Currawong is described as sedentary (more or less stays in the one territory year-round). The Pied Currawong in this area is definitely an altitudinal migrant. Grey Currawongs are omnivorous and spend a lot of time feeding on insects, larvae and small reptiles on the ground and under the bark of trees as well as seeds and fruit.

‘Currawong’ is an aboriginal onomatopoeic name.

Friday, August 4, 2023

Heyfield Box, Stringybark and Ironbark woodlands

A recent brief trip ‘back home’ brought about a reacquaintance with some old favourites.

Top: Heyfield F&F Reserve. Bottom: Ironbark north of the town

Golden Grevillea (Vicflora LINK)

Grevillea chrysophaea is a Victorian endemic listed as Vulnerable in the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act. A few plants remain within the Heyfield Flora and Fauna Reserve, despite some (misguided?) attempts to remove them by the slashing of a fire break! Different forms of chrysophaea grow in different habitats – Holey Plains, Brisbane Ranges, Licola, etc.

Fairy Wax-flower (Vicflora LINK)

The Heyfield Flora and Fauna Reserve is one of the few places east of Melbourne where Philotheca verrucosa can be found. I could only find about 6 plants this time around – they’re pretty scarce on the ground at this site.

Tiny Greenhood (Vicflora LINK)

Although widespread and common throughout the state, Pterostylis parviflora is often overlooked due to its tiny size – the flowerheads are not much bigger than 6 or 7mm and lack the notched labellum of the Trim. The Ironbark woodland just north of Heyfield is a favourite place to find this cryptic greenhood.


Friday, July 14, 2023

Common Heath

Samples of Common Heath, Epacris impressa, were first collected in Tasmania in 1793. The pink form of Common Heath was declared the floral emblem of Victoria in 1958.

The generic ‘epacris’ is from the Greek for ‘upon a hill and ‘impressa’ is Latin for ‘indented’, referring to the five dimples in the petals of the flower.

Common Heath is not only found ‘upon a hill’. Maybe the first few specimens collected were from hillsides, but in reality the plant is seen in a wide variety of situations. It usually prefers well-drained sites in acidic soil from coastal heathlands to sub-alpine locations.

Now is a good time to see Common Heath in flower in our nearby forests and roadsides – it is a winter-flowering plant. Most plants are a bit ‘scrappy-looking’ but now and then you may come across a brilliant display of the white, pink or scarlet form amongst the scrub.

Some gardeners describe the plant as being ‘finicky’ to grow. As a cut flower specimen it is a little underwhelming.

Last year, Tim Entwhistle, the director the Royal Botanic Gardens of Victoria dared suggest it was time to change our floral emblem and conducted a poll. The results were 1 – keep Common Heath (42%), 2 – Silver Banksia (26%) and 3 – Manna Gum (16%). 

The humble Common Heath is always a delight to encounter in our bushland on a cold winter’s day. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Striated Fieldwren

The Striated Fieldwren is often referred to by its scientific name, ‘Calamanthus’ as in Calamanthus fuliginosus. (Calamanthus is Greek for ‘stubble pipit’ and fuligo is Latin for ‘soot’).

The bird is endemic to southern Australia and inhabits dense heath, grasslands and salt marsh.

For most of the time, the Striated Fieldwren forages at ground level and is fairly shy, remaining hidden. Every now and then, one will come to the top of a nearby shrub and sing which happened today. After traipsing for an hour or so through the salt marsh of Reef Island Reserve at the end of Bass Landing Rd without reward, I returned to the ute only to have my cuppa interrupted by a Striated Fieldwren singing from just a few metres away.

A couple of birds continued to fly in out of the shrubbery, sometimes pausing on top of a bush for their picture to be taken. When they were on the ground, their camouflage made them almost disappear.

As far as I can determine, Calamanthus fuliginosus is not listed in Victoria’s Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act or the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. In NSW it is listed as Endangered. Many references however state the opinion that populations are in decline due mainly to - you guessed it - habitat loss.